09.11.2005 08:05 - 'Tis The Season of Forced Jolliness
The shops start their Christmas pitches ever-earlier.
Over here in Germany, there is a particular horror attached to this : the Weinachtsmarkt, or Christmas Fayre. When I first came to Cologne, they would start in the last week of November. They've been creeping closer and closer to the beginning of the month ever since, no doubt fuelled by eager tourists on weekend coach-trips.
The Weinachtsmarkts come in two flavours : There's the standard one, where huts are set up in Neumarkt, Rudolfplatz, the Altstadt and the Domplatte, all selling various "festive" stuff. There are traditional wooden toys, handicrafts, mobile-phone covers, unashamedly expensive sweet stalls (you could buy the stuff cheaper in the supermarkets, or if you really want a discount, go to Haribo's factory shop in Bonn) and various snacks. The same stuff appears in the same booths every bloody year - they're block-booked up to six years in advance. Some of the more grotesque decorations include motorised mannequins perched on the huts, grimacing in a manner presumed to be friendly by their sculptors, supposedly dancing to the jolly christmas music. Fortunately, one of the many snack bars will be selling "gluhwein", which you can drink until it all goes blurry at the edges, and the jolly christmas music blurs into one. Well, blurs into Phil Spector's Christmas album, anyway. Now there's something they ought to take into account whilst sentencing him.
The second type of Weinachtsmarkt is the "medieval" markt which takes place at the Schokoladenfabrik on the banks of the Rhine. The Schokoladenfabrik is a chocolate factory of futuristic design. It has, however, got nothing on Cadburys, being fairly small, and only making chocolate for show purposes. The real chocolate factory is in Poll, and laid off most of its workers after last easter. Don't expect to see any jolly little Oompa-Loompas round there - the staff are uniformly miserable bastards, and if you ever taste the food in the canteen you'll soon know why. They'd probably give Roald Dahl a good kicking if he ever showed up there, never mind anyone dressed up as Willy Wonka. But I digress.
The Medieval Weinachtsmarkt is basically the same thing, only without piped music, and more twigs in the food. You have to pay a fiver to get in : that's before you even buy or eat anything. Once in, you find that it's also exactly the bloody same people as it was last year, even down to the bloke droning on with the medieval carols accompanied by a hurdy-gurdy. Instead of gluhwein, there is warm mead, and instead of food, there is medieval food, which is basically similar except without the hygene regulations. Medieval arts and crafts abound, such as ye olde hande-maidde leatherre maggyc tellynge-bonne coverlet, sold to you by an idiot speaking the german equivalent of chaucerian english (oh alright, Dutch), and pretending that this cover will stop the church from seeing your black-magic-enchanted device and stringing you up in the market. (Twat). There's also usually a group of minstrels, doing things like fire-eating and balancing acts, proving how easily-entertained our ancestors were, and the herb-seller, who last year convinced Her Maj to buy a flagrantly-expensive piece of mistletoe by talking medieval crap. He started on me, and then went into paroxysms when he discovered I was English, which Her Maj found funny. I had to be restrained from putting a severe dent in his codpiece.
My first trip to Cologne was in the last week of November, for my job interview. The market was out in full-force when I got there, but a special horror, I was to find, was reserved for me, at the weekend. It began on Saturday morning, when I discovered a horrible whine emanating from the hitherto-quiet breakfast room of the small hotel I was staying in. On closer inspection, the whine proved to be coming from English tourists, on a special weekend coach-trip for the Christmas Fayre, who were in the midst of breakfast. "Oh, they don't make the tea properly here, do they?", "oh this bacon's too greasy", "oh these sausages don't taste right" (see previous entry for that).
After breakfast, the hordes decamped to the Weinachtsmarkt, and proceeded to make their presence felt.
In those days, there was a Marks and Spencer's in Cologne. What would happen was the english tourists would whinge their way round Cologne, and then end up doing their shopping in M&S. Being English, they would defiantly refuse to learn any german, or even take a phrasebook with them. After all, they had won the war, hadn't they? Classic quotes abounded : one woman, of northern English extraction, coming out of one of the biggest department stores in Cologne, whining "Oh, I don't understand anything what's written in there, why can't they write it in English?", another pompous Southern Woman, shouting in the face of a german shop-assistent, "CHOCOLATE MONOPOLY!!? DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!" in the over-annunciated way of speaking english reserved for communicating with the deaf, hard-of-thinking or terminally foreign.
After half a day of this, I was ready to kill my fellow countrymen.
Fortunately, I have developed a foolproof method for avoiding bloodshed during the holiday season. I take my MP3 player, and fill the whole 20Gb of memory space with the most tuneless, ear-punishing, violent death metal I can find, complete with vocals that sound like the Cookie Monster throwing up. I can then wear this, safe in the knowledge that any festive jingle-jangly- sleighbells-and-santa crap cannot penetate my aural shields.
Therefore, dear readers, I am inviting you to suggest tracks for this sonic screen in the comments, so that your fellow men, who are righteously sick of the hideous over-commercialisation of Christmas by fast-buck merchants, can benefit.
And if anyone calls me Scrooge, I'll come round and play my selection to you using a 1000kW P.A. at point-blank range, with the speakers strapped to your head.